The talk lately has been liberaltarianism — the idea that libertarians (after 40 years of broken promises from Republicans) and liberals should combine in the Democratic Party to further our goals. The best summation of what I call “the liberaltarianist folly” comes from George Mason University School of Law Assistant Professor Ilya Somin, who pines:
Although I wish things were different, I think that my 2006 reasons for skepticism are more valid today than they were back then. The financial crisis/recession has persuaded most liberal intellectuals that our current problems are the result of insufficient government and have made it far more difficult to persuade them to take arguments against massive expansions of government seriously (to say nothing of arguments for its radical reduction.) I think that claims that the financial crisis discredits libertarianism are seriously flawed. But most liberals clearly believe otherwise.
That’s the rub, isn’t it? The Democratic instinct is almost always for bigger, more intrusive, more meddlesome, more controlling, more centralized, more top-down government. Now, let’s get specific with the big issues of the day.
The Iraq War
I know, I know. The war is basically over, and we knocked their chins in the dirt — first Saddam’s, then al Qaeda’s. But let’s be honest here: the Iraq War is pretty much the reason libertarians flirted with the Democratic Party, and half explains Ron Paul’s rise to prominence during the Republican primaries. Big-L Libertarians, and lots of the small-l variety, too, are staunch isolationists. Some might quibble with that particular word, but it remains an effectively accurate descriptor. While there’s no way to test this absent the Iraq War, I doubt anyone would be having this discussion, at least not loudly enough to notice.
The Afghan War
Seriously. There’s a wing of libertarianism so completely isolationist, it was against even toppling the Taliban in direct retaliation for 9/11. Those people probably do belong with the Blame America First, Last, and Always crowd on the far left of the Democratic Party.
Hidden deep in the Pork Package was a provision to effectively roll back the 1996 welfare reform act. Journalist Mickey Kaus says it makes Democrats “seem determined to reinstate dependency.” That’s what Democrats accomplished after being in power three whole weeks. On this issue, the debate — denied completely in the Capitol building by Pelosi and Reid — is closed.
Liberaltarianism has seemingly better footing here. Abortion, free speech, the drug war — liberalism and libertarianism would just seem to mesh better. Think again.
Let’s get the same-sex marriage issue out of the way first. When even California passes Proposition 8 — due to overwhelming Democratic turnout — then today is not the day to wage that battle.
The goalposts on abortion restrictions haven’t moved all that much back toward the right since Roe v Wade. And if four years of Republican domination of Washington, including an evangelical president, couldn’t get new, severe restrictions placed on abortion, then we can consider this issue effectively dead for the foreseeable future. It remains, however, a hot button for politicians to push (on both sides) to scare people into the voting booths. Get used to it; that’s not going to change.
A few Democrats seem willing to ease up on the drug war, but most aren’t. This isn’t very different from the situation on the Republican side, although Democrats can probably afford to be more outspoken on this issue. Libertarians should be making the case that if you want to end a war, which really does imprison thousands upon thousands of non-violent “offenders” while violating the civil rights of all Americans, then repeal the drug laws. However, too many of us are still too wrapped up in outdated (and wrongheaded, if you ask me) opposition to the terror war. And besides, our arguments fall mostly on deaf ears. This issue is a wash.
Free speech? Are you kidding me? Republicans are the only party even somewhat in favor of commercial free speech. Let’s not even get started on campus speech codes and other PC nonsense, which is owned almost exclusively by the left. Political free speech, too, is endangered as more and more Democrats come out in favor of reasserting the so-called Fairness Doctrine. Sure, only Democrats are likely to find you a constitutional right to receive a lap dance — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But for the kind of speech that really counts, the Republican Party remains by far your safer bet.
And, if we may be outspokenly honest — if not outright Machiavellian here — the evangelical wing has run the Republican Party into the ground over the last two election cycles. The coming years might be the best time since the Reagan Revolution for small government types to wrest back control of the party.
The Current Mess
What’s the difference between a Republican and a Democrat during an economic crisis? About three trillion dollars. That’s the price tag, with interest, of the Obama/Pelosi/Reid Pork Package passed last week by Congress and signed by the president on Tuesday at a virtual campaign rally event in the capital city of an important swing state, Colorado. Witness the biggest one-time vote buying orgy in human history. And when this spree fails to revive the economy, prepare to witness more just like it.
It’s true: libertarians have no love for former President Bush and his massive TARP (Troubled Assets Relief Program) bailout, nor should we. In fact, Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” — and its willing Republican enablers in Congress — is the second big reason liberaltarianism ever became an issue. Bush’s governing philosophy of “when somebody hurts, government has got to move,” was the very antithesis of libertarianism.
But rescuing our horrible (and horribly tangled) public/private banking industry from complete disaster — and taking the entire global economy with it — is one thing. And it was one thing Bush (along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) did incompletely and incompetently. But as libertarians we should expect that kind of thing from government. It’s quite another thing to endorse the kind of explosive government growth enshrined in Denver on Tuesday — and which received the votes of only three Republicans, out of nearly 535 votes cast. When push came to shove, Congressional Republicans rediscovered their backbones (if not any actual principles; it’s hard to say) and almost every single one of them voted against the largest one-time expansion of government in human history. The Democrats, bar seven of them, voted as one in favor.
In other words, “liberaltarian” doesn’t just sound ugly, it is ugly.
I’ve glossed over quite a bit here, and left out a lot of issues many people will find more important than I do. That’s the nature of trying to cover three entire political movements in the space of a 1,200-word column. My apologies. But the broad outline, I’m afraid, is pretty much dead-on: we’ll never get the big bedroom and we’re almost always stuck eating leftovers, but we’re a part of the Republican family.
None of which is to say that libertarians should find some permanent home in the Republican Party. We absolutely should try to be the tail which wags the dog — by withholding our votes from candidates who cross the line into nagging nanny-statism, or by forging temporary alliances with like-minded Democrats on whatever issues where we might need to. But for the foreseeable future, the Republican Party remains where we belong — our dysfunctional, feuding, uncomfortable (and temporary?) home.